Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Natalie Barber makes this connection here…

The news, entitled “Africa’s Hidden Water Wealth,” was reported by The New York Times on June 17, 2012. This article relates to the WRE domain of hydrology in the specific context of distribution and occurrence of water resources. In synopsis, this news article reports that there is a large amount of available groundwater supply in Africa. The water supply in most countries in Africa is unfit to drink. Water supplies have previously been used for irrigation purposes, rather than meeting the collective needs of the people. With this newly discovered resource at hand, it is hoped that finances will be delivered to helping those communities without water to receive it first and foremost, and then plan for a sustainable design to supply water for irrigation. Groundwater is minimally affected by floods and droughts and will serve as an effective means for providing safe drinking water to those communities lacking this critical resource. Currently, about 30 percent of Africa’s water wells are out of commission. Accessing the groundwater supply in the Sahara will be no easy feat. Therefore, a sustainable and manageable design process for supplying this resource is necessary. The United Nations General Assembly acknowledged the need to combine efforts to efficiently manage shared groundwater resources in December 2011. Based on my knowledge of water resources engineering, the news article correctly reports an important WRE issue. In the article “The Facts On Water in Africa”, the World Wildlife Foundation reports that about half of the African population suffers from water-borne illnesses (WWF). MacDonald et al. reports that there is an estimated volume of 0.66 million km3 of groundwater storage in Africa, and while not all of it is accessible and is unevenly distributed, his studies provide an accurate assessment of this supply (2012). The article  reported by the New York Times clarifies the need for groundwater supply management. However, a plan to do so was not suggested, save for using small scale irrigation systems for lower producing wells. Also, while the article states that there is a large groundwater supply, the exact abundance and specification of where it is located was left out.

Water resources engineering is directly involved with the planning, management and development of water resources. As it relates to hydrology, the occurrence and distribution of the reported groundwater resource has the potential to solve societal and economical issues related to the severe water crisis in most African countries. The societal context relates to community and environmental health. IRIN reports that failing pumps and aging infrastructure are directly related to the high amounts of deadly bacteria that occur in Africa’s water supply (2009). Economically, the status of the country can be greatly improved as Africa could become a major supplier of freshwater worldwide if this resource is properly managed. The cause-effect between Africa’s groundwater supply and societal impact is as follows – without proper supply and distribution of drinking water, the nations of Africa will continue to suffer from water-borne illness and malnourishment.


Figure 1: Indicates the estimated depth to groundwater in countries throughout Africa



Figure 2: “Aquifer productivity for Africa showing the likely interquartile range for boreholes drilled and sited using appropriate techniques and expertise” (MacDonald et al., 2012)



IRIN. (2009 February 4). SOUTH AFRICA: The quiet water crisis. IRIN.                 http://www.irinnews.org/Report/82750/SOUTH-AFRICA-The-quiet-water-crisis

MacDonald, A.M., Bonsor, H.C., Dochartaigh, B.E.O., & Taylor, R.G. (2012 April 19). Quantitative maps of groundwater resources in Africa. Environmental Research Letters.             http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/7/2/024009/pdf/1748-9326_7_2_024009.pdf

WWF. Living Waters: The Facts On Water in Africa. World Wildlife Foundation (WWF).             http://assets.panda.org/downloads/waterinafricaeng.pdf